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Chasing time

The History of the Fugue, till the end of the Baroque

a Time when a Fugue followed every passage, like its Shadow. 1

Petro Vouris

Student Number 970023

Contact Number 0410 785 144


Baroque music History, MUS2508 semester 1, 2015

Lecturer: Stewart Smith

Tutor: Aiden Deasy

1C. Burney and A. Ribeiro, The Letters of Dr. Charles Burney (Clarendon Press, 1991),
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While the Age of Enlightenment was still In Utero, a group of Florentine literati known

as the Camerata de' Bardi, would fervently seek the renovation of ancient Greco-Roman ideals of

art, exotically counterpoint to their devotion to the quadrivium; here the paths of arithmetic,

geometry, music, and astronomy would meet. Such learned societies in Italy were growing in

numbers, establishing an academic precedent for placing theory before practice.2 This approach

would inspire a growing amount of musical treatises in the 17th century, at a time when the

Basso Continuo would make the vertical observations of harmony conceivable, revealing to the

speculative eye, that of which the ear alone could not afford.3 Now more so than ever before, old

contrapuntal composition could be re-evaluated and refined. The reformation of such a device

was a technique of imitation called a fugue. It became indicative of impassioned theoretical

developments of the 17th and 18th century, rising out of the obscurity of old forms, to become its

own eulogy of creativity.

The word fugue was documented as far back as the early 14th century, appearing in the

work of Jacobus de Liege in his speculum musicae.4 The term comes from the Latin fuga

meaning to flee or chase and was only at the time used in association with the strict cantus

firmus of a canon.5 The word canon () meant to the ancient Greek artisan, a measuring rod

from which they could define and regulate their ratios to reach an aesthetic harmony.6 With

reverence for such principles, the fugue would start to move beyond the confines of the canon to

be explored independently.

L. Schrade, Monteverdi: Creator of Modern Music (Gollancz, 1972), 44.
R. Kirkpatrick, Domenico Scarlatti: Revised Edition (Princeton University Press, 1983), 354.
R. Gauldin, A Practical Approach to 18th Century Counterpoint: Revised Edition (Waveland Press,
2013), 209.
Paul Walker, Theories of Fugue from the Age of Josquin to the Age of Bach, Eastman Studies in
Music, (Rochester, NY ; Woodbridge, UK: University of Rochester Press, 2000), 7.
W.G. Moon, Polykleitos, the Doryphoros, and Tradition (University of Wisconsin Press, 1995), 322.
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The nature of the fugue being a process, rather than a genre, caused much confusion

through many of its formative years. The fact that the term was interchangeable with other

terminologies such as the imitation, canzone and ricercare, wasnt helping either.7 Out of a

desperate need for clarification of what a fugue was, and what it was not, theorists put their

quills to paper to divulge meaning. Interestingly the literary styles of some of these treatise were

presented in the manner of a Socratic dialogue, as can be seen in the work of Morley, Fux and

Arbeau. In this style of dialogue the writer narrates his own thoughts as both master and student;

as if in discourse with oneself under the guise of two characters. The subject presented by the

first character is answer by the second character/voice, in doing so, the two or more voices

articulate the subject/topic through various nuances until a conclusive argument could be


Like a Socratic dialogue, the fugue also creates a dialogue between voices.8 It does this

with a statement in the form of a melody this is called the subject. The intervals of this subject

are contrapuntally considered to anticipate the interaction with the first response, The first

response which is called the answer will be an imitation of the subject often transposed a tonic or

dominant apart.9 As the answer chases the subjects tail, the subject then proceeds from its short

motive to what is called the development, allowing for a greater diversity of harmonic interaction

with the answer. In contrast to the canon and its Ptolemaic like fixed spheres of motion, the

Walker, 9.
S. Sadie and A. Latham, The Cambridge Music Guide (Cambridge University Press, 1990).
9 J.A. Sadie, Companion to Baroque Music (University of California Press, 1998), 389.
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voices of the fugue could develop and shift orbit from the strict cantus firmus to a free

counterpoint style, much truer to its time, like Keplers elliptic orbits.10

Once the first subject and answer have entered, more voices can be follow in sequence,

until all the voices have entered, as either subject or answer, until we have the conclusion of the

exposition. This first malleable grouping states the thematic material of the piece, proceeding

to what is then called an episode. This episode is a modulatory chapter that allows the subject

and themes to move to a new key. There are other substructures that allow movement of

variation in pulse, cycle of the theme and form; one of these is called a stretto successive

repetitions of short subjects.

Examples 1. Exposition of Fugue with 3 voices

Subject Countersubject


Answer Countersubject

Don Nicola Vincentino in his work, LAntica Musica ridotta moderna prattica (1555),

was one of the first theorists to introduce the technique of fugue as independent of the canon, by

asserting that it should never follow the fixed motions of a strict canon. 11 Vincentinos

contemporary Gioseffo Zarlino further defined the new identity of the fugue by stating that, what

defined the fugue from other imitation, was that it had to have entrances on the intervals of the

4th, 5th and octave.12 Example 2.

M.J. Adler, N. Copernicus, and J. Kepler, Great Books of the Western World: Almagest / Ptolemy.
On the Revolutions of Heavenly Spheres / Nicolaus Copernicus. Epitome of Copernican Astronomy :
Iv-V. The Harmonies of the World : V. / Johannes Kepler (Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1992), 860-863.
A. Mann, The Study of Fugue (Dover Publications, 2012), 15.
Walker, 12.
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Example 2. The "Gigue" Fugue in G major, BWV 577 by J.S. Bach

In the early 16th century, it was believed, that a fugue should establish the mode at the very

beginning, so its free movement would not confuse the listener with its harmonic ambiguity.13

To avoid such confusion Girolamo Diruta (1550- ) maintained that the 5th and 4th of a tone must

be stated at the beginning of the fugue. Though by the 17th century most Italian academics

believed that the mode of the fugue should be disclosed throughout the exposition. 14 Concern for

harmonic clarity, was again raised by Marco Scacchi, who insisted that any subject that jumped

to a fifth or a fourth should be resolved with a tonal answer. Scacchi proposed doing this by

keeping the answer in the same key as the subject, as opposed to a real answer, which is the

direct transposition of the answer to another key; usually the dominant. 15

Ibid., 145.
Imogene. Horsley, Fugue, History and Practice (Free Press, 1966), 75.
Walker, 145.
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The early Baroque era was to see the fugue briefly fall out of fashion, overshadowed by

fashionable operas, cantatas and oratorios.16 Post-war Europe had emerged from the 30-year war

with booming trade and commerce, seeing a new-middle class transformation into the first

leisure class of Capitalism. Cultural industries such as the Box office became phenomena of

spectacle and entertainment as audiences flocked to see their idols.17 The demand for

showmanship would soon see instrumental music refashioned, with a new demand for virtuosity

and competiveness.

As a result the ricercares, toccatas and fantasias started to employ more complex devices of

imitation, seeing the fugue once again explored by brave composers. The rigorous show of

counterpoint of the imitative ricercare of the 17th century would have been a great display of a

composers skill. 18A master composer of this style and a man suited to the early Baroque flair of

virtuosity was Girolamo Frescobaldi.19 Skilled in keyboard and organ, Frescobaldi would

ambitiously explore the various mediums of the fugue. His ricercares and toccatas extensively

used the fugue practise, both in stilus gravis and stilus fantasticus, as well as the stilus

melismaticus and stilus hyporchematicus. His innovative work was critical in influencing

German composers to take the fugal technique seriously.

Walker. Paul M "Fugue." Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online. Oxford University Press,
accessed June 16,2015,
P.C. Buci-Glucksmann, Baroque Reason: The Aesthetics of Modernity (Sage Publications (CA),
18 Paul M. Walker, "Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online", Oxford University Press (accessed
v. 17).
R. Taruskin, Music in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries: The Oxford History of Western
Music (Oxford University Press, USA, 2009), 35.
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Austrian theorist and organist Johann Joseph Fux, had been influenced by Frescobaldis

work, as had many of his German-speaking contemporaries. Fux would adapt the influence of

Frescobaldis ricercares in his subjects and in the use of imitative counterpoint.20 In 1725, he

published his Gradus ad Parnassum, as a devotee of Palestrinas model codes, Fux placed

Palestrina in the centre of his Socratic dialogue of his work. Palestrina as the old master

Aloysius, and himself as the young Josephus. 21 Fuxs detailed explorations in imitation, created

what he called the counterpoint species. All kinds of inventiveness can be found in the example

of his species, everything from note against note, two notes against one, four notes against one

and suspensions.22

An example of
one of the many
entrances and
species of
proposed by
Fux in his
Gradus ad

20 A. Silbiger, Frescobaldi Studies (Duke University Press, 1987), 226.

21 Mann, 53.
22 K.D. Briggs, Tonal Counterpoint (Lulu Enterprises Incorporated, 2012), 8-10.
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While Italy drank from exuberant decadence, Germany was pondering music in its

reflective solitude. The German gearbeitet (labour, work, study), was kept alive and in good

practice. 23 Johann Sebastian Bach worked hard and had accrued the great understanding of fugal

works from masters such as Buxtehude, Froberger and Frescobaldi. He explored the fugue to the

extremes using various scale degrees, swapping from major to minor, or minor to major. His

second application was to elongate episodes by expanding on motives, subject and

countersubject. Fugal techniques with such qualities were unusual for their time, yet they helped

him define his own enduring stamp on the Fugue.24 By 1750, Bach and the Baroque had left us,

harmony frozen, and polyphony expelled and the fugue? Out of fashion again. How times can

end abruptly in retrospect, 150 years and millions of exemplary moments, reduced to an abrupt

letter from Burneys, sad yet poignant it crystalizes the toxicity of change.

I was no less surprised than pleased to find Mr C.P.E Bach get out of the trammels of Fugues & crowded parts in

which his father so excelled. 25

23 Sadie, 389.
24 J.W. Hill, Baroque Music: Music in Western Europe, 1580-1750 (W.W. Norton, 2005),
25 Burney and Ribeiro, 104.Burneys Letter to Christoph Daniel Ebeling (reminiscing

about Bach and Domenico scarlatti (Queen Square), November 1771

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Adler, M.J., N. Copernicus and J. Kepler. Great Books of the Western World: Almagest /
Ptolemy. On the Revolutions of Heavenly Spheres / Nicolaus Copernicus. Epitome of
Copernican Astronomy : Iv-V. The Harmonies of the World : V. / Johannes Kepler:
Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1992.

Briggs, K.D. Tonal Counterpoint: Lulu Enterprises Incorporated, 2012.

Buci-Glucksmann, P.C. Baroque Reason: The Aesthetics of Modernity: Sage Publications

(CA), 1994.

Burney, C. and A. Ribeiro. The Letters of Dr. Charles Burney: Clarendon Press, 1991.

Gauldin, R. A Practical Approach to 18th Century Counterpoint: Revised Edition: Waveland

Press, 2013.

Hill, J.W. Baroque Music: Music in Western Europe, 1580-1750: W.W. Norton, 2005.

Horsley, Imogene. Fugue, History and Practice: Free Press, 1966.

Kirkpatrick, R. Domenico Scarlatti: Revised Edition: Princeton University Press, 1983.

Mann, A. The Study of Fugue: Dover Publications, 2012.

Moon, W.G. Polykleitos, the Doryphoros, and Tradition: University of Wisconsin Press,

Sadie, J.A. Companion to Baroque Music: University of California Press, 1998.

Sadie, S. and A. Latham. The Cambridge Music Guide: Cambridge University Press, 1990.

Schrade, L. Monteverdi: Creator of Modern Music: Gollancz, 1972.

Silbiger, A. Frescobaldi Studies: Duke University Press, 1987.

Taruskin, R. Music in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries: The Oxford History of
Western Music: Oxford University Press, USA, 2009.

Walker, Paul. Theories of Fugue from the Age of Josquin to the Age of Bach Eastman
Studies in Music,. Rochester, NY ; Woodbridge, UK: University of Rochester Press,

Walker, Paul M., "Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online", Oxford University Press
(accessed v. 17).
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